Knowledge management and knowledge-intensive work are two of today’s hot buzzwords, though both already have a history of managerial usage. While some authors claim that knowledge is the most important organizational asset in contemporary society, others retort that much of knowledge management literature and practical solutions are just perfunctory and propagandist and many, if not most, managerial polices rely on manipulation of emotions and identity creation. This chapter aims to capitalize on this fascinating and timely research area. We want to present the current business fad of knowledge-management in terms of excess and forgetful repetition of ideas. We look at knowledge management as an idea of highly suspect utility, and search for explanations for and possible counterbalances to its ubiquity.
Knowledge Management As Pulp Fiction
One of the most disingenuous characteristics of knowledge management literature is the fact that its content can be often reduced to a truism: knowledge is good, so make people share it.
Alexander Styhre and Mats Sundgren (2005) describe this phenomenon, characteristic of the pop-management literature on creativity and knowledge in organizations, by merciless exposure of arbitrary references, wishful thinking, methodological ridicule, and obtrusive didacticism of William C. Miller’s Flash of Brilliance (1999). Indeed, all too many knowledge management books resemble children’s storybooks: they are full of colorful images and diagrams, they are written in a simplified language (do the authors of books on knowledge management really think that their readers are so stupid?), and include simplistic advice that is little different from what is found in the bestselling Chicken Soup series (Canfield & Hansen, 1993).
This has been confirmed by our short, and mostly anecdotal, research experiment at the 2008 Standing Conference for Management and Organization Inquiry (SCMOI) meeting in Philadelphia. We looked up “knowledge” and “knowledge management” in books.google.com. From the eight top books in both categories we chose one sentence with the word “knowledge“ (not “knowledge management”). We distributed the sentences among SCMOI participants and asked them to try to determine whether or not the quotation had been taken from the knowledge management literature. The examples included such obvious sentences as:
“knowledge evolves as our purposes change in creative response to our environment” (Alle, 1997, p. 19)
“‘maps’ to knowledge experts are useless if these experts cannot be reached at the moment when knowledge is needed” (Malhotra, 2000, p. 124)
“the knowledge transfer process involves the transmission of knowledge from the initial location to where it is needed and is applied” (Easterby-Smith & Lyles, 2003, p. 110).
We contrasted these with statements like:
Key Terms in this Chapter
Knowledge Worker: Employees whose most important organizational asset is their knowledge and their ability to manipulate it.
Knowledge Management: The notion of a special managerial toolset applicable only in contemporary organizations, particularly those of the high-tech sector
Management Fad: Management concept rising quickly to mainstream prominence, expected to equally quickly disappear into obscurity.